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Occupation magazine - Life under occupation
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Praying in Hebron a security nightmare for Palestinians
By Samih Chahine
Agence France Presse
31 March 2005
DATELINE: HEBRON, West Bank March 31, `Stop. Walk forward. Lift
your shirt. ID card`. Such are the orders Israeli soldiers bark
out to Muslims herded through frightening security checks to pray
at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
Venerated by Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Muslims as the
Abraham Mosque, draconian security measures were strengthened in
early March after two Israeli soldiers were wounded by Palestinian
fire at the West Bank site.
`It`s humiliating. They don`t want anyone to pray here,`
complained 62-year-old Fahd Nasseredin after passing the first
He lives next to the Tomb and has been praying there since
childhood. `It used to take me five minutes to get to the mosque
from my house. Now I need half an hour,` he said.
The highly charged holy site has been a source of untold tension
in the heart of the southern West Bank city for decades.
In 1994, it was divided into two, one for each faith, after a
Jewish extremist massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers in one of
its prayer rooms.
Today, electronic barriers, surveillance cameras, barbed wire and
bunkers have transformed the perimeter of the Tomb into something
akin to an army camp rather than a place of worship.
Merely to pray at the Tomb, Muslims have to pass through a metal
detector, turnstile and electronic gates, all under the steely
watch of soldiers armed to the teeth. Many are also subject to a
body search and an identity check.
Najah Abu Sneineh, from Jerusalem, begs a soldier to let her
through quickly so she does not miss a service.
A guard reprimands her and shoves her into the queue.
`They`re criminals. I only want to join the prayers but I`ve
missed it thanks to their searching and checkpoints,` said the
Complicating the situation, most of the roads leading to the Tomb
have been closed by the army since the Palestinian uprising broke
out in September 2000, with a curfew frequently in force in the
surrounding Palestinian areas.
The restrictions have led to a severe drop in the number coming to
pray at the Tomb.
Chief sexton Hijazi Abu Sneineh says less than 100 Muslims attend
the five daily prayers in the mosque compared to more than 300
before the military stepped up their security measures at the
beginning of March.
Palestinians also accuse the army of frequently banning Muslims
from using the loudspeaker in the call to prayer on the demand of
`It`s all down to the whim of the settlers. The loudspeakers are
banned on Shabbat, Jewish religious days and in the evening,`
Hundreds of Israeli soldiers are based in Hebron to protect around
500 Jewish settlers who live in the midst of 150,000 Palestinians.
Last week the army evicted two Palestinian families from their
homes backing onto the Tomb to use it as an observation post
during the Jewish carnival of Purim.
`Settlers went to the house to offer (the soldiers) their best
wishes for Purim,` said Abdelhamid al-Jaabari, the owner of one of
`I saw them dancing in my own house while my family and I had to
sleep round at the neighbours,` he said.
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